Thursday, February 26, 2009

Red Planet Result - Not Yet

Oh good grief. Update.

Trouble with successful TV companies - they're busy.

What's on the turntable? Nuffink.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Q versus A

Now then, my Running script.


I was looking at my notes on the train this evening (I didn't get to it last night after all). I had a male protagonist and a female protagonist, brother and sister. I knew this was one character too many but that's how I had originally envisioned it.

Cut to interview with Joss Whedon that I watched last week.

Joss has developed this simple idea about the difference between TV and Film: A TV series is a Question, while a film is an Answer. I'm not going to dwell on this, I shall leave it as an exercise for the reader to understand what he means.

For me it wasn't exactly a revelation, more of a "yeeeeees ... yes ... I see. That's right."

And that's what was wrong with Running and the "one character too many".

If this is to be a film, it has to be an Answer. It runs its course and ends at a satisfying conclusion. But having these two protagonists sets up a dynamic - a conflict - between the two that isn't resolved. Which means it would be remain a Question.

I don't mean, of course, that I think everything in a movie has to be resolved, nor do I think that you can't have an ensemble cast in a film (Joss did it himself in Serenity). But for this film, for Running, the additional character results in this unresolvable conflict.

So I lose a character but do I lose the brother or the sister? That's an easy one for me. I'm like Joss Whedon, I like writing interesting female characters (even Une Nuit a Paris, which is about a stag weekend, has two ... no ... three strong female characters), so the brother is thrust into limbo.

Once that was resolved I had to think about the opening scene, I like to thrust the audience straight into the action, and have them just a little bit confused. I went through various scenarios, and eventually hit on one where the characters began to live, including the apparently dead one. At which point I knew I had it sorted.

The opening scenes await.

But I'll have to wait until Celtx 2.0 downloads and I can get cracking with my exciting new soft toy - I mean software toy.

What's on the turntable? "Blue Motel" by Joni Mitchell from "Hejira"

Celtx 2.0 Released

Yes indeedy.

They done some nice work to it but now they've added versioning in their Celtx Studios.

What the buggery does that mean?

It's like this: Let's say you write a draft of your script. Then you write the second draft. The first draft still exists on the Celtx system.

Now you think - what if I completely get rid of that character? Well, you can. The previous versions exist PLUS you can back to an earlier version while still keeping the one with the removed character.

You can compare them to see where the actual differences lie, cut and paste between create as many different "branches" of your script as you want and so on.

But remember Celtx isn't just a screenwriting system (it's also an AV writing system, Comic writing ...) but more than that. It's a complete movie production control system. And every element of it has the same version control.

It does all sort of clever stuff that you need when you produce a film of any length - down to scheduling, prop lists and call sheets, and other stuff you need that I don't know about. All integrated so that your work is kept to a minimum. It also does collaboration so you can have different people working on different aspects of the whole project. Or you can have multiple authors on the same script.

What else? Oh yes, Celtx Studios allows you to create web "views" of your project so that you can give other people access to see parts of your project (like the script perhaps). But still maintain security on your whole project.

The downloadable Celtx software is still free. The new versioning (et al) option, through Celtx Studios, costs $50 per year. I'll pay that just for the versioning, and these guys have been doing all this work for free for a very long time, I don't begrudge them a subscription.

I don't get a commission.

What's on the turntable? "Song for Sharon" by Joni Mitchell from "Hejira"

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Getting the reference

It was 1 hour and 28 minutes ago that I sat down to write this blog. How do I know? Because I wrote the "What's on the turntable" entry below. Then I killed the blog and have just restarted it, and it's the same song - and I have exactly 1:28 hours of Steely Dan music.

What have I been doing in the last hour and a half? I have been writing the Table of Contents for the planned reference book. It's a programming manual for a large and well-known publisher of such reference books.

I had sent some notes on what I thought should be in it to my co-author, he'd responded by expanding it with his stuff. So I took the TOC suggested by the company, and his notes on my notes and ran them all together, sorting them out into some semblance of a logical sequence and incorporating the headings of the publisher, just to show them that we're not ignoring them.

I had this rather nifty idea, since we need a website to demonstrate the principles we will be describing in the book why not build a website that will potentially make us some money? Along with the free advertising from the book. Mercenary, moi? (Hey! I'm 50, and though I'm not planning on retiring [what a waste of time that would be] I'd like to have lots of pennies rolling in so that I can live in the style I wish to become accustomed ... to.)

Speaking of plans. You might like to try this: A couple of years ago I sat down and worked out how much money I would need to generate in order to handle all my debts and do everything I wanted to do. The figure came out at about £300,000. Then I multiplied by 3.3333etc to round it up to a million. (I had my reasons.)

Then I picked a date which seemed a reasonable target: End of 2012. So I decide that by that date I would make £1m and handle all my debts and so on. Then I sat down and started working out ways that I could make the money required.

Last year was a good start but I mishandled the money and ended up back where I started. So this year I'm doing it better and getting more long-term money generating plans off the starting blocks. Obviously I'm never going to make a million if I go on doing what I'm doing, you need to continue to make the money to live on plus devise sensible schemes that can deliver in the future.

I actually made this plan before I discovered I had some screenwriting talent.

I don't really believe in coincidences, I do believe we are responsible for what goes on around us, both directly and indirectly (why can't I win the lottery then? Because there are millions of other people trying to as well). And just by making the plan, as I did all that time ago, my life began to change around me (like discovering I had a highly valuable programming skill and now having the opportunity to write a book).

I'll do some set-up work for Running this evening, get my notes out and have look over them, probably change them. And get some writing in wednesday evening.

Oh! I'm going to the Toby Whitehouse thing set-up by the BBC Writersroom - are you going?

What's on the turntable? "Barrytown" by Steely Dan from "Roaring of the Lamb"

Monday, February 23, 2009

I was writing, honest

I had had a run of good Internet recently, meaning I could wrap up any business I had that involved e-mail, reading blogs and so on nice and quickly.

Until tonight. Old Rubbish Internet was back ... although I think I've solved it (by heavens).

But this evening while Rubbish Internet was trying to load a page (and taking about an hour) I managed to write the instructions for my "it'll make me rich one day" website so that my testers could have the run of it.

So that's another job done.

Must admit I'm a little bit worried about this reference book project: It's not insignificant, we're talking at least 400 pages of which I will do at least half (as well as editing the other half for my co-author - and him me). It worries me because it's going to get in the way of the screenwriting.

So I better hurry up and get Running written. Time for a new Progress Bar.

(And welcome to Elinor who's following me - why? I don't know where I'm going.)

What's on the turntable? "Duchess" by Genesis from "Duke" - I don't care what anybody says, I like Genesis and Phil Collins, together and apart, then and now.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

New Best Friends

Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott are my new best friends in the screenwriting world. These boys have written major successful films that you've heard of: like Aladdin, Shrek, Small Soldiers, Mask of Zorro - and Pirates of Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. (Their name is on Godzilla, but that's another story.)

And, in case you didn't know, they have a set of articles on their website about screenwriting in Hollywood - it's mostly a horror story. Now they write features, but a large proportion of what they have to say is just as applicable to TV writing.

But I'd like to draw your attention to these two: The Task and The Off-Screen Movie.

I've been thinking about the feature I wrote about a year ago during Scriptfrenzy: "Une Night a Paris" (One Night in Paris). I sent it to two readers, one gave it an "it's okay" with a few caveats. The second was far from complimentary and hoped very much I'd written it before I wrote "Monsters", which I hadn't. However I had had the arrogance to send a first draft. (Naughty.)

Thing is Une Night a Paris is not a "genre" film. It's a contemporary comedy thriller. Or, at least, that was the plan - to be unfavourably compared to the less-good Carry On movies is not encouraging. And I dropped it like a hot potato.

But now I see it as an experiment. Critique should never be taken at face value, accepted there's plenty wrong with the script, what actually needs fixing? Both readers commented that it didn't seem clear exactly what sort of film it was - the tone varied too much - so clearly that is a genuine issue.

But the rest?

The first of the above referenced articles considers what the hero must do to achieve their goal. You can have the outer want and the inner need, but the Task is the actual actions that must be performed - and this is the thing that actually gets filmed. This is the DO of the film.

We all know that a protagonist has a goal and we're supposed to put obstacles in their way to make it hard. But here it's suggested that this is a half-hearted description of the real situation.

And I looked at Une Nuit a Paris, with the goal/task viewpoint and realised it was very ill-formed in my script. The Goal barely existed at all, so even though there was a clear Task there was no real reason that the protagonist should go through that hell. He had no desired goal driving him - why bother?

The Off-Screen Movie is a piece of genius, it helps to explain the existence, or lack, of script momentum. In all my TV scripts to date I don't think I've had a problem with momentum, for the very reason described in this article. However Une Nuit a Paris does suffer from that problem, and this article describes the problem and the solution. Which is cool.

There are a lot of articles (over 50), and they are not short. But they're all worth reading.

What's on the turntable? "The Trees They Do Grow High" by Pentangle from "Light Flight CD1". Another beautiful song - a tragic story of forced marriage turning to love that lasts but a brief while.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


As I was feeling fairly pleased with my progress on the new website (the day job) I decided to have more than 15 minutes for my lunch.

And what did I do with this extra time? I analysed the search terms that people have used to find my blog in the last month. What else would you do?

Red Planet34
Tiddly Pom15
The Writer's Tale7

It's a blog to do with writing and people are getting very ... skittish and possibly skattish, about the Red Planet result. People look for my name, which is nice, though this is only people who have previously visited the site. The recent UK snow explains the Tiddly Pom which I used as a blog title - obviously I should have put in the entire poem, but there's this copyright thing.

I said some things about Merlin a while back, but interest has persisted, less people are interested in Demons though I said a lot more about it and it's more recent. Obviously the Russell T Davies book is of interest to writers.

There was one search for "" which resulted in a visit to my site. I find that odd, I did the self-same search and looked deep into the results and didn't find me anywhere.

Better go back to work now.

What's on the turntable? Nowt

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Then three come at once

An acquaintance from a previous job has just got in touch with me about co-authoring a book - a book about programming in this case.

I said yes.

Oh dear Lord, what have I done.

Addenda #1

In reference to Paul's comment below, I cheated. The first draft of Unit X is complete but didn't quite make it to 45 pages, so I just fixed it to show 100%. It's my bar and I can do that if I want.

Been working on the 3rd Draft of Air, and (darn it) my editing and re-writing has reduced it to 20 pages! Oh no. It needs to be at least 23. Still I have managed to fix the major concerns, none of which were terribly difficult.

It's just my red editing pen got the better of me. I can be quite ferocious when I have my editor's hat on: Ooh look, I can knock out a few more words there, and that dialogue could be much shorter, and those characters don't need to say that at all. Now I have to figure out how to add pages without it being padding. Grrr.

I ordered my weekend rail tickets and made the mistake of getting guaranteed next day delivery. Which needs a signature. I'm not in during the day. Luckily the local delivery office isn't too far away and it opens at 7am. I can get up at the usual, get the tickets, catch a slightly later train and still be in work an hour before the normal working day starts (10am).

Right. Back to Air.

Addenda #2

Oh good grief, what a mess I got myself into. I was looking at the version of Air I was working on and it slowly dawned on me, it was the wrong one. It was Draft #1, which was indeed, a bit short in the pages department.

So I located the right version - I'm actually quite organised, this is unusual for me - and transferred the new and modified scenes across. Luckily the changes were concentrated in one area. And the page count is 25 pages. Phew.

What's on the turntable? "Amarok" by Mike Oldfield (59 minutes in). Again. It's rather good. Oh, it's finished.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Air tonight

Did no writing yesterday evening because I was late back from work due to meetings and train problems, and I was tired. I did manage to damage my thumb trying to fix the exploded kettle. If I'd been able to get into the base I could have rewired it. But I couldn't pry it loose. Brute force and ignorance didn't work.

Day job was a bit poo yesterday, didn't really get anything finished, today was better. Thing with programming, which is similar to writing: people don't understand how much work goes into it. They see what's on the surface and never appreciate what's behind the scenes (behind the scenes, geddit?). Do something quick that looks shiny and they say "oooh, that's clever, must have taken you ages". Do something really complicated but isn't showy and they wonder what you've been doing all week.

This evening I did some reading, wrote some e-mails and got an e-mail from a friend containing some of a book he's been writing which he wanted me to comment on. I will but not tonight.

Eventually sat down to work on the revisions for Air. It's all been going nicely and I nearly finished, but the end needs some major work (since both sets of feedback felt they'd been short-changed) so I shall give in for the evening and go to bed.

What's on the turntable? "Amarok" by Mike Oldfield (4 mins in)

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Look, 88% on Unit X, only five pages to go. That's first draft of course.

On my way from London to Manchester on Friday I found myself crammed into a table with a nice lady from MENCAP next to me. I don't know that she was nice, but as someone doing work for a jolly good charity like that, I am assuming she was nice. She had a computer too.

Let's talk about MENCAP for a minute.

It was a long time ago now, maybe 15 years (eeek!) a friend of mine came up to me and said "Want to do a charity bike ride in Egypt?" and I said "Yes." (Not having been on a bike in years.) But I did, on behalf of MENCAP, we rode across the Sinai desert, East to West. It was amazing. I know what it's like to be in the middle of a real desert, with heat in the 40s. Or desert mountains. I know what it's like to suffer from heat exhaustion. I'll tell the full tale another time.

A couple of years later I did it for MENCAP again. This time it was China, and I went without any friends - people seemed to think this was particularly brave. But you mingle better when you know no one. That was also amazing, in a very different way. Did you see the approach to the finishing line in the Olympics road races? Heading for the big gate in the Great Wall? I've ridden that road. I've ridden in China with heat in the 40s - and astronomical humidity - with intense pollution. I'll tell that tale another time too. But it was amazing.

Getting back to last Friday: Trouble is I couldn't write. For two reasons: (a) I didn't physically have the space; (b) I can't be creative when someone might be looking over my shoulder - I get very self-conscious. People might think I'm a real screenwriter and ask awkward questions like "what have you done then?"

So, instead, I spent the two hours going through Unit X and editing it. Which means I actually knocked maybe 1-2 pages out of it. There was one scene that had been superceded and was completely redundant. (A short scene.)

It has to be said my scenes are getting shorter. In Monsters I had 56 scenes in 57 pages, for Air there were 35 scenes in 25 pages, in Unit X I have nearly 80 scenes in 40 pages. So I've gone from 1 minute/scene to 30 seconds/scene. Though, to be fair, I have a lot of very short scene-setting scenes in Unit X. Like:

One after another the five planes take to the black
sky, each with a glider in tow.

But they are getting shorter.

Where was I? Oh yes. Shorter. Then this afternoon on the train back I wrote more. So here we are at 40 pages, and really I've got to the end. But that's okay, I'll leave it for a bit and then start in on the re-edit. It needs more emotion, it needs the Doctor's character being developed more and all sorts of stuff like that.

Meanwhile, I printed up the two reports on Air and went through a paper copy on the train this afternoon as well. Both readers had made an assumption which was not what I wanted to communicate in the script, and all because I gave "Air" (the main character) a single line which was very portentous and completely wrong. Silly me.

And both of them felt there was something wrong with the action at the end of the episode, "short-changed" was one comment. So that needs cooking up a bit more. A couple of the changes don't affect anything important so I'll just do them.

But I always like to do a good solid run-through on paper - years of experience with on-screen editing (even when it wasn't my own work) has taught me that you really can't edit on-screen properly. You have to do it on paper. I also need to do an out-loud read-through to see how the dialogue and action flows - you can do that on-screen because the technique forces you to read every word.

The big novel what I wrote a few years back - I read the whole thing out-loud. It took a while but it was amazingly useful.

After I've finished the edit of Air I'm going to get started on my Parkour SF story - Running.

Oh, this week, courtesy of Rob I acquired two hour-long interviews with Joss Whedon. Regular readers will know that for me "Joss is Boss". These interviews did nothing to dispel that feeling. in fact they did everything to encourage it, and were very pleasing in that I felt a lot of affinity with his writing process.

One thing of interest was that, in one interview, there was a pan across one of his bookshelves which had a lot of books on Shakespeare; a later comment in the interview was about the Shakespeare workshops he ran for the cast of Buffy.

You can't beat the Bard.

What's on the turntable? "Jóga" by Björk from "Homogenic" - I love this song. I love Björk, (though not as much as Kate).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Off again

There you go, 10 days of nothing (well, other things - like the Monsters OGN), then I actually figure out what the problem is with the script of Unit X and away we go again. Went from 66% complete to 80% complete - that's about 7 pages.

I suppose some people would call that writer's block. I suppose technically I was "blocked from writing that specific script" but usually people describe it like a disease that needs "curing".

But I just done wrote the script wrong. Huh-huh. Only need another 9 pages or so to finish. Cool.

What's on the turntable? "Incantations, Part Two" by Mike Oldfield from "Incantations" (Another huge surprise.)

My name is Inigo Montoya

I was travelling home on the train this evening, got out my trusty pad and pen and began to look at this intractable problem I've been having with Unit X - basically unable to write the end of this big action sequence.

Certain things must happen in this sequence and I just couldn't make them happen in a way that made any sense. I've done step outlining; I've researched maps of German schlosses (castles); (discovered a place that's been converted into expensive apartments - it's beautiful, I could definitely write there); I've made my little card figures; ...

And then, in ten minutes, I realised what the problem was: It wasn't the complexity of the situation at all, it was the behaviour of the characters. The first step was realising why one of the characters had gone down into the cellar. I knew he wanted to go but I had the wrong reason.

So that made part of it cleaner and made one particular scene make a lot more sense.

Then there was the SS Major, it dawned on me that, though he had his orders, he was not a complete idiot and would not face down a squad of armed US soldiers in a corridor. That's just plain stupid. He does not want to die - and neither do I want him to die, at least not there.


It's that brilliant moment in "The Princess Bride" where Inigo Montoya finally faces Count Rugen. Inigo has demonstrated his superb sword skills and explained that he's trained all his life for this moment. So Count Rugen does the only sensible thing - he runs away.


The Major runs away, of course he does.

This then puts him in the right place for the next bit, and also allows one of the other characters to be where he needs to be for his bit that has to happen - and so on and so on.

10 minutes work. Excellent. Now I just have to write it.

What's on the turntable? "Tubular Bells, Part 1" by Mike Oldfield from "Tubular Bells" (There's a surprise.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

You don't want to know

On the Shooting People screenwriters bulletin they have been discussing procrastination.

And methods of dealing with it. And what people procrastinate doing. And so forth.

I have some potentially bad news - there is a brilliant (and free) piece of software available (for Mac and Windows) which will tell you just how much time you spend doing something else.

In fact it was designed for people like me, web developers and other people who do all their work from computers and need to check how much time they are spending on different jobs.

What makes this brilliant is that it keeps track of the applications you're using and the window titles of those applications. Then you tell it which windows belong to which activities. Then it tracks the time on that activity by simply looking at the windows you're using.

It is brilliant and simple.

Plus you can then specify how much, or how little, time you think you should be spending daily on each activity and it will tell you how well you're succeeding. So if you think you should be spending less than 20 minutes a day on writing blogs, you can set it up that way.

You can get it to measure all your writing as a whole, or break it down into separate activities depending on the projects you're working on.

It's still a work in development but I've been using it this afternoon and it's great.

Get it from Slife Labs.

You really didn't want to know about that, did you?

What's on the turntable? "Waking the Witch" by Kate Bush from "Ninth Wave" (the other side of the "Hounds of Love" album)

I haven't written this at work listening to Kate Bush, I've used the clever post-dated posting that Blogger can do.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Domestic hell

You might have wondered about my little interjection about exploding kettles in yesterday's blog - but it's true, my kettle exploded. Well, suffered an electrical fault resulting in a dramatic bang and a flash. And the blowing of fuses (well, current switch thingies).

This evening I was full of excellent intentions in regard to writing.

Hell got in the way.

It all began on Sunday, when my wife reported that the combi-boiler had started making rather a lot of noise, quite unpleasant noise. She demonstrated. It was a very unhealthy sound for a combi-boiler to make.

So she switched it off and rang the Gas Board. Who said they could come between 1 and 6 on Monday afternoon. Lot of bloody use that would be, since nobody would be in, but of course they couldn't even offer to put her at the end of the time. My wife managed to leave work early and arrived at 4. They'd been.

A second freezing cold evening, she called again this time they admitted that for an extra £3 month they could give a slightly better timing of 4 to 6. Begrudgingly she agreed.

Tuesday came, and sure enough, they turned up and did their fixing thing. Then went away.

Half an hour later all the electrics in the house failed.

My wife spent an hour on the phone. Obviously it had nothing to do with them, just a coincidence. (Hell of a coincidence.) My wife rang me at 5:45pm. Now they had no heating and no lights either.

By the time I got back to my flat in Reading, she (up north) had been on the phone to them again, this time managed to force them to send an electrician - "but if it's nothing to do with us we'll charge you!"

In the meantime I had figured out how she could get most of the house working by pulling out all the fuses and then putting them in one at a time until the trip switch tripped again.

She choose not to do it as the electrician was due in a few minutes.

A short time later she rang again, he'd isolated the kitchen circuits and the house had power again but still no heating - he couldn't touch that because he's an electrician. She got on to the Gas Board. Yes, they can come between 1 and 6 the following day.

What happened to the timed visit for an extra £3/month? Oh, that only applies to yearly maintenance. TODAY WASN'T YEARLY MAINTENANCE! Oh, you must have been mis-sold it.

At this point my wife's rag was so lost a battalion of search dogs couldn't have found it. And no she can't talk to the supervisor because he's not here and nobody will be here in 10 minutes.

The electrician took over talking to the Jobs-worth. He was extremely rude apparently. As well as quite sensibly pointing out that it's hardly surprising that their customer satisfaction rating was dropping like a stone when they had this attitude.

The visit was arranged. My wife is so stressed out she's getting ill (the freezing cold isn't helping) and will take tomorrow off anyway. (She hates taking time off.)

Half an hour later the electrics in the house cut out again.

She manages to get the Gas Board (strange I thought they'd all gone home) and they send the electrician back. Meanwhile I give my wife the previous mentioned instructions and we find out that another circuit in the house is faulty. (Can this be a coincidence?)

Makes an exploding kettle fade into insignificance.

So the best laid plans etc. I'm feeling very distracted and can't concentrate on writing. Though yesterday I did manage to finish making all my little bent-cardboard characters to play out the Unit X action scene. Maybe tomorrow.

(I seem to be getting a reputation for action scenes - Dave Bull was a little disappointed with the ending of Ep. 1 of Air because it wasn't as exciting as the beginning. Own back, a rod, my, for, making.)

What's on the turntable? "Hounds of Love" by Kate Bush from "Hounds of Love"

Monday, February 09, 2009

Cheshire cats

I'm grinning from ear to ear. I hope my jaw doesn't fall off.

And then my kettle exploded. All the lights went out. Using my mobile as a torch I unplugged the kettle and reset the fuses. Phew.

I've had feedback from my other main script reader, Dave Bull, about my "Air" script. Modesty forbids me to quote everything he said in his opening remarks but the word "Wow!" (with the exclamation mark) came into it. Mind you, modesty didn't stop me from boring my wife with it over the phone.

However he did have some script-readery things to say, and he was right. He noted that the tone of the main character, and thence the script, changed significantly at one clearly definable point. Which is a bad thing.

But still, I was pleased because he did say a lot of nice things.

I did get three full pages of Monsters OGN (see I'm calling it that now) written yester-eve, and popped it over to the illustrator. It's really interesting how it all works out - the things that I'm including in the OGN but left out of the TV script, and vice versa. Now, we wait.

Do you think you want to write for Hollywood? I thought I might, but I think I've changed my mind - no, I have definitely changed my mind. Why? (You may ask, and if not, why not?)


Because of this posting and then this one. And I am unwilling to be crapped on like that. From my reading of Bill Martell's blog I knew that this sort of thing went on, but these two guys are even higher up the tree than Bill.

Then again, it's not that I've completely changed my mind - it's a case of ensuring that when you do write for Hollywood you're in a sufficiently powerful position that this does not happen to you.

Funnily enough there is a book which would make a cracking SF blockbuster. It's written by one of the absolute masters of SF, yet the book is available, I almost optioned it a couple of years ago. Good thing I didn't, I wouldn't have been able to write a decent script then.

One day.

I'm going to do some work on Unit X. Right now. Honest.

What's on the turntable? "Leon's Room" by Vangelis from "Bladerunner CD2"

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Blue in the face...

...and all the way to the tail. Including whiskers.

I've been prevaricating a bit. Spent the afternoon researching on how to write comics scripts (note the use of "comics" to ensure the clear distinction between a script that is funny and a script for a comic - this is important).

And then I tried writing some. Pretty nice actually (and Celtx does it all for you). Considering I never really want to be a Director it's also important to understand that, when writing comics scripts, that's exactly what you are because you select the shot to be used in each panel. (Of course the illustrator might suggest something else, and may well be right, but it starts with you.)

My illustrator, Rob, reads a lot more comics than I do but when I suggested one particular idea he said "nobody's doing that, it sounds great!". Gosh.

My Google Reader had run out of things to read so I thought I'd have a look at some of the suggestions, after rejecting a couple, I found "Blue Cat". Now I know many of you already read him but he's new to me. (I say "him" but no gender is indicated unless an inability to make coconut macaroons is a specifically male trait. Or indeed the ability to make biscuits encourages ignorant secretaries to accuse him of being gay.)


I have been telling everyone that I think the reason Demons was such drivel was mainly because the director is clueless and probably hates "genre".

I was very pleased to discover that from the insider's view, as provided by James and his blue cat, I'm right. Not necessarily in this particular, but certainly in general.

I didn't see the Demons finale but have been briefed on how they, once again, ripped a zombie show from the life of a script with potential.

Back to now: So this evening I want to complete a couple of pages of the Monsters comics script (hm, perhaps I should just call it OGN - "Original Graphic Novel", see I'm getting the lingo) and send those off to Rob and see if it makes sense to him. There's obviously going to be a settling in period, we were being very careful over e-mail saying things like "is it alright with you if I take a directorial stance" and "I don't want to squash any creative vibes but I think..." - have to see how it goes.

Then tomorrow I shall get back to Unit X. I really must finish this first draft, yes I know I said that yesterday.

What's on the turntable? "Gavotte & Variations" by Sky from "Sky 2"

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Hidden talent

In this instance I am not talking about you, gentle (talented) reader.

I have been in That Birmingham meeting and talking with friends (desperately trying to persuade one of them to start writing, he's a clever chap, I bet he could do it).

Then there's my mate Chris in Birmingham. Chris is a bassist, generally acknowledged as one of the best bass players in the country, he has headlined with Jules Holland among others. People come to him when they want a classy bass line on pretty much any type of music. His story is an odd one - apparently he decided one day, in his late teens, that he wanted to play the bass guitar. So he disappeared into his bedroom, and re-emerged a year later, having practised all day every day, a virtuoso bass player.

Despite his current success he's looking for new challenges and asked me if I knew of any other paying gigs for musicians - he's like to compose as well. So I'll be sending him a list of ideas, and if you have any ideas I'll be happy to pass them along.

For a while now I've been wondering whether I could make Monsters into a comic - well, okay, I knew I could and I wanted to. The only stumbling block was an illustrator - I do have contacts who know illustrators but these are professionals and would most likely want paying. How do you find a professional quality illustrator who likes your stuff and is willing to work for nothing?

There's this bloke Rob. I've known him for a few years, his day job involves working with people who need help. He's a jolly good chap. Turns out that Rob used to work as a professional illustrator, the type who says, when you say what you're after, "What style?" That kind of professional.

And he's love to help me turn Monsters into a comic. I've given him a quick brief and we're going to look at styles - he even asked whether I wanted colour or mono. Excellent question, I love professionals, since I'm planning for us to make money out of this, it'll be mono. (Means I can create downloadable PDFs that people can pay for and print out themselves without a huge colour printer bill.)

As has been mentioned I use Celtx for screenwriting. It just so happens that Celtx also has a comic-writing option. So I shall be exploring that.

But I mustn't get too side-tracked. I still need to finish draft 1 of Unit X, might manage that tomorrow.

What's on the turntable? "Cascade" by Gordon Giltrap from "Perilous Journey"

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Feeling challenged

It turns out that the BBC don't want Winter. It seems that although they claimed they were looking for something unusual and ahead of its time, the truth is they want something that's the same as everybody else is doing.

I understand why, but it's just another sad reflection on these times of fear. In this case, fear of criticism.

However the door is not closed, my contact asked if I had something else. I didn't when she asked at 10:30 this morning. But 20 minutes on the train with my trusty note pad this evening, and now I do. Something that will fit their agenda. The code word for this new project is "Strings". Of course they still might choose someone else but that's fine.

So this evening I shall write it up into a one page pitch thingy and zoom it off to be read in the morning.

It's not the end of Winter (had you noticed? Ha-ha) because now I have the freedom to find a team to make it. I'm feeling challenged, I know this is something that nobody else has done and I doubt anyone will do it in the near future.

And I want to be the first, damn it.

High Concept is a thing that I didn't comprehend fully until a short while ago (about 5 minutes) though the understanding has been dawning for a few weeks now.

I initially took objection to the idea of it because, as far as I could tell the idea of "high" concept was actually "low" concept - something everyone could relate to. I felt that ought to be a low thing, not a high thing.

But in reading Bill Martell and Adrian Mead it's finally been dawning on me why high concept is, indeed, high. Because it's above everything else. It really is a Good Thing(tm) it's a concept that anyone can grasp because it is basic to the human experience.

You probably knew that already.

So in story terms it's a concept that, when you describe it, anybody can instantly see the story - not the detail obviously, but they can feel the emotion of it.

I was just working out the logline for Strings: I evaluated the main character's outer want as a contradiction of their inner need. And how the antagonist represented the outer want, yet it would be the acceptance of the inner need by the protagonist that defeats the antagonist.

And encapsulated that into the logline and bingo! Suddenly I understood High Concept.

[A short time later] Finished the 1 page pitch. I love having new ideas. This one is vaguely reminiscent of Jet Li's movie "The One" but doesn't have any martial arts in it and has a proper plot without silliness (infinite universes is just that, infinite). But it does have lots of versions of the same people in the multi-verse. This is why it's called "Strings" as in String Theory.

It's got a neat little twist at the end, I'd love to tell you about it, but I can't.

What's on the turntable? "Quest" by Gordon Giltrap from "Perilous Journey" - could there be anything more appropriate?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Mugs of Green Tea


Today has been a good day.

I passed my first test at work. When you're a contractor you are employed on the basis that you can do the job. And hopefully you can. But every job is different, there are always twists that you can't predict, and usually there will be some part of the job you've never before encountered. You have to wing it. I see them as tests.

This time I got side-swiped with a short task that wasn't precisely what I was employed for, and involved a type of work I haven't done much of and I had to decipher other people's work as well.

I know that I'm a good programmer but I've had a couple of knocks recently - including a phone interview for a company where I could not answer a single one of the interviewer's questions. Now that was very painful, it's true their requirements were quite specialised, but I felt like a complete idiot.

Anyway I fixed the code I'd been given, in fact I fixed more than I was asked, because there was a lot more wrong with the code than was apparent - like a countdown timer that occasionally went 06 ... 05 ... o4 ... o3 ... 02 ... 01 ... 60 ... 60? That should be 00. Strangely I was reminded of Demons.

Stress can often be caused by unfinished cycles of action - every time you don't finish something (or don't do something you know you ought to do) it ties up brainpower, leaving less to deal with the rest of the world.

There were things I needed to do: Phone my parents for one (it's been a bit too long) and e-mail my sister in Australia who's discovered she has a tumour hiding behind one of her kidneys (sneaky thing - the tumour not the kidney). Since my eldest sister died of cancer this was a worry. Apparently it's benign, but I still need to communicate. I didn't have her e-mail address here, now I have, so I can.

Then there was my trip to Birmingham to see my friends. I was planning on going tomorrow evening (Thursday) but I realised how much this was stressing me out. Carrying an extra big bag through the London insanity of a rush hour? So I thought: Why not go on Friday morning? I won't lose anything and will gain much. A quick phone call and it was arranged.


Then, on the way home, I was thinking about the problem of this huge action sequence in Unit X. I realised that although I have a pretty damn good visual imagination, this was just a bit too much. I needed an imagination aid.

Ideally I would have been at home where we have all the little figures that we use for our role-playing games and floorplans and all sorts of stuff so I could build a set and have the characters move to see who goes where and does what to ensure it all ties together at the end.

So, in true Blue Peter style, I had to improvise. I was about to start cutting up flimsy paper into folded pieces I could write on to represent the characters. Then I realised I had hundreds of business cards that are out of date. They're made of nice thick card and I can make 6 people out of one card. (I could have made one character out of each business card which would have made them nice and big, but that would have been wasteful.)

If I had a camera I'd show you. But I haven't, so you'll have to make do with the words.

Excellent. Time to play.

Green tea? Oh, I've been drinking mugs of green tea this evening.

What's on the turntable? "The Diary of Horace Wimp" by ELO from some album or other.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


A good old-fashioned word that.

Feeling a bit "bleaugh" this evening, for various reasons: I'm not at home seeing my family this weekend (I'll be in Birmingham seeing friends - which is nice in itself, but...). My son is off on a school trip to Norway tomorrow and will be gone for a week. We still have our financial problems and will have for another month until I start getting paid for the work I'm doing now.

Daughter slipped on the ice and hit her head today on her way to college, so went back home and stayed there - but didn't call to say she'd hurt herself. Parents worry especially after it's too late to have done anything about it. She only missed English - which she is exceptionally good at anyway.

As a quick aside from bleaughness: the daughter is 17 (nearly 18). We have a big puppy and I usually take him for his last-thing-at-night walk. A couple of weeks ago we were all going to bed and the wife mentioned taking the dog for a walk and I muttered about having to take him, because the daughter certainly can't (late at night, dark). The little smarty-pants says "Why? Are you worried I might kill someone?" Which, of course, she is perfectly capable of doing in rather interesting ways. She's safer than I am. (Except I didn't slip over on the ice, even though Reading was slick with it this evening. Is that tempting fate too much?)

Anyway, I bought the wife and daughter a copy of "When Harry Met Sally" (£4 at Morrisons) before I left, so they can have a girlie evening when I'm away. I love that film. "Pecan Pie"

I should be writing but I can't see how to write the last bit of the action sequence in Unit X yet.

Sometimes I wish I could switch on the TV and watch something completely mindless. But I haven't got a TV and my Rubbish Internet is too slow to even listen to audio on iPlayer, never mind watch video.

Instead I pulled out a London street atlas that I bought on Monday to see how to get from Paddington to Oxford Street. It covers pretty much all of the Greater London area and I ended up looking at Romford and the little bit of Hornchurch that falls off the edge of the page.

Why? Because I spent my days from age 5 to 18 there. The house I lived in wasn't on the map, but I peered and squinted and spotted my secondary school half on the map. And my Junior/Infant school as plain as can be. The school all my sisters went to is there. The train station which used to have a fish and chip shop outside it, where I (on only one occasion) used my dinner money to buy fish and chips instead. I was never much of a rebel.

If you give a damn, I used to live here. (I have to use the non-interactive version because of Rubbish Internet.)

I went to art evening classes at the Polytechnic on Ardleigh Green Road, and got some good enough to sell. I played in Haynes Park, it had woods and a 9-hole golf course. I crossed the railway line on a footpath to go to piano lessons (I never got good at that). Had two friends on Staverton Road. And another friend across in Parkstone Avenue who's Dad was very well off and the house was huge. Between our road and Lewis Road there's a river that ran along a u-shaped concrete bed. During the summer we used to explore it, walking along it. In winter it often filled to the top of the concrete channel. Next door to us lived girls I fancied at different ages (Julie in one direction, Caroline in the other). Next to one of those was a family where both parents were child psychologists who had two children that were the worst behaved I ever met. After all the children had left home my parents moved to Grosvenor Road. And then away completely.

And at the railway station there was a zebra crossing where I slipped over on ice.

Gosh, memories.

So I'm feeling bleaugh - it's not that I want to go back to those years, oh dearie me no, it's just making me feel sad. I'm reinforcing the mood I was already in: Matching my "loss of family" (as it were) with "loss of places".

And I'm tired too, which doesn't help.

Pathetic really.

Plus the fact we haven't heard about Red Planet yet, and I was right, the BBC people didn't have their meeting yesterday so there's no decision on whether they want Winter (ha-ha-ha, how ironic they couldn't make a decision because of the winter weather, gosh, I'm so funny) - at least my contact was kind enough to let me know. But I'm screaming with impatience inside.

A wise man said (something like) "It's okay to feel down once in a while, just don't let it go on too long."

So I really better snap out of it.

Meanwhile, in other news, Oli discussed something very close to my heart, and I've been trying all evening to post a comment but my Rubbish Internet keeps messing it up. Grrrr.

Oh, is my time up? Well, thanks for listening. Same time tomorrow?

What's on the turntable? "Legend in my Living Room" by Annie Lennox from "Diva"

Recommended reading

A good writer can move you, even with just a blog. Roger Ellory just posted this. You might find it interesting.

What's on the turntable? Nothing, but Frasier is on Paramount Comedy

Monday, February 02, 2009

That snow joke

Getting back home was a doddle despite the snow.

Though the majority of the Underground was suspended, the Central Line was running. So I hopped on the Tube at Oxford Circus (barely 30 seconds from where I'm working) waited 10 minutes for a train (well, there was some Central Line disruption) went through to Lancaster Gate which is a 5 minute walk from Paddington.

At Paddington I walked straight onto a train to Reading (there were plenty of them, most trains from Paddington stop at Reading, even during disruption like this) and arrived half an hour later. Waited 15 minutes for the local train to take me to West Reading (a journey of 3 minutes) and I was back at the flat in just over an hour (total).

Easy. Mind you some people were planning to walk 6 miles home because they had no choice.

As you can see from the wonderful progress bar I have managed a few more pages of Unit X. It's tricky work, I'm now heading into the final part of the big action sequence which currently runs from page 17 to page 30, it'll probably need another 3 pages. Then there'll be the denouement and I'll fill up more stuff earlier on

What's on the turntable? "Love and Anger" by Kate Bush from "Sensual World"

Yellow snow cones

Contrary to the rest of the universe I'm in work, I just felt that since it was my first day I really ought to make a point of trying, even if no one else did. I travelled in from Reading this morning and walked from Paddington to Oxford St - it's not really that far though a bit tricky in the snow.

I'll be leaving early though. My main fear is a lack of trains back to Reading. That would be bad.

I suspect now that I won't hear from the BBC about Winter since the relevant people may well not have made it to their meeting.

What's on the turntable? Nuffink, I'm at work

Sunday, February 01, 2009

In Reading again

My migrant lifestyle continues. I'm back at the flat in Reading, once again reduced to Rubbish Internet(tm). The trip down was appalling, there were engineering works between Oxford and Reading so I thought I'd go via London again.

Next time I'll go to Oxford and use the bus replacement. The Virgin train to London was fine (as previously mentioned the trip time is too short and the table uncomfortably high but never mind that). I then had to negotiate the Underground, half of which was closed due to engineering works. Then I got the slow train to Reading from Paddington, because I was too impatient to wait a further ten minutes for the fast train.

Progress on Unit X? For various reasons I was very tired and didn't feel up to creating new content so I thought I'd read through what I'd done so far. So I did a bit of editing, which means I was chopping out dialogue, cutting back action descriptions and generally making the whole script shorter. Thus making it harder to reach my target. Then I came to the place where I knew I needed to change one scene and add a related scene, so I did.

It was a Joss Whedon moment. I'm a fan. I needed to get over a piece of information, I was going through various ideas of how I could achieve this and then I thought: How would Joss write this scene? And it came to me. What he does is throw the script headlong towards a cliché and then makes a sudden left just before he gets there. (The scene in the crypt with Ethan Rayne is a classic example - I did search to see if this was available on YouTube, but I got my own description coming up on Google instead.)

I'm not sure this scene (and its precursor) are as good as they could be yet, but they'll do for now.

Anyway the end result is that the script ended up being a page longer (with the bits taken away and the bits added) so I'm now on 60%. Go me.

This is going to be a stressful week. Not only am I starting my new contract at Paramount Comedy tomorrow, but I should find out whether the BBC want "Winter" turned into a script (which would be my first commission if it happens), and perhaps we'll hear on Red Planet this week.

Hopefully I'll finish the first draft of Unit X as well, I'm happy to report the characters are beginning to become real for me now which makes the writing and editing considerably easier.

What's on the turntable? "Orange Crush" by R.E.M. from their Greatest Hits - sometimes tracks just don't mean anything.